Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Seibu Lions pitching coach Shinji Mori dead at 42


Saitama Seibu Lions pitching coach Shinji Mori passed away with multiple organ failures on Wednesday, June 28. He was 42 years old. Mori left the team on June 27 and stayed in Fukuoka feeling sickness.

Mori became the Lions' ichi-gun pitching coach in May of 2016. He previously served as a ni-gun pitching coach from 2014-2016.

As a player, Mori was a second-round draft pick of the Lions in 1996 out of an industrial league. He would be a middle reliever and closer from 1997-2005 for the Lions. His best season in NPB came from 2000, where he had a 1.83 ERA and 0.903 WHIP as well as 23 saves. Mori was also a member of the 1997, 1998 and 2002 Lions teams that won the Pacific League pennant. He also won the 2004 Japan Series for his only championship as a player.

Mori was posted to the then-Tampa Bay Devil Rays after 2005 and was supposed to compete for a reliever role. He was one of the first pickups of then-General Manager Andrew Friedman, now working with the Los Angeles Dodgers. His career would never be the same, as he suffered a torn labrum and would eventually be released.

The last playing years had Mori being a player-manager with the Ishikawa Million Stars of the BC Challenge Independent League from 2010-2014.

With the recent loss of Tamotsu Nagai, we've lost two of our Lions family members to end the month of June.

Mori's legacy can hopefully be reflective of how Yusei Kikuchi has been transformed. When Mori was promoted to the ichi-gun staff, Kikuchi became more efficient and strong with his location, looking like an ace.  If Kikuchi can be the next great Lion for years to come, credit it to Mori.

Thoughts and prayers go to the team, as well as Mori's family and friends. May he R.I.P.

===

Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Monday, June 26, 2017

Three Lions voted into 2017 All Star Series


The fan vote for the 2017 NPB All-Star Series concluded and it resulted in three Saitama Seibu Lions voted in.

Shogo Akiyama, Hideto Asamura and Kazuhisa Makita were voted in by the fans as the OF, 2B and setup man positions, respectively. Without question, all three players have earned their spots.

Akiyama, 29, has already been known for his 2015 record-breaking season, but has quietly shown more pop in 2017. Through 66 games, he has already tied a career high 14 HRs at the ichi-gun level. He is currently hitting with a slashline of .333/.436/.562 and has spent most of the season as the Lions' leadoff hitter.

Asamura has 17 doubles with 49 RBIs, hitting a slashline of .301/.346/.449. Most of these numbers reflect a red hot April and May, where hovered near the .400 mark. This is his first season being the team's captain and wearing the premier No. 3.

Makita has become a 7th inning reliever for the Lions after being a swingman for any role last season. He currently has an 0.55 ERA in 33 innings pitched. What has made him effective is having minimal pitch count through one inning and forcing weak contact.

Here is our reaction to the rest of the Pacific and Central League players voted in:

Pacific League:

Catcher: Motohiro Shima (Eagles) .223/.379/.306

This is more of a name recognition vote than anything else. Shima has spent a portion of the season injured, but when looking at the rest of the Pacific League, there weren't many options with other teams going with multiple catchers. Ginjiro Sumitani hits in bunches as he got his average up, but everyone knows he's only known for his defense and isn't as well-rounded like Shima.

===

First Baseman: Sho Nakata (Fighters) .238/.347/.433

Like Shima, this is a name recognition type of vote. The objective one should go to Seiichi Uchikawa of the Softbank Hawks who actually has more home runs (11) than Nakata (10). Uchikawa's slashline is currently .330/.416/.557 and has been an important part of the Hawks' offense.

===

Third Baseman: Nobuhiro Matsuda (Hawks) .258/.322/.422

Matsuda is pretty popular given his past, but there is a better case for Brandon Laird, who has recovered well from a slow start and has more home runs (16) than Matsuda (11). Zelous Wheeler is quietly playing well after an awful April, as his slashline is .281/.351/.504. Wheeler also has 14 HRs.
===

Shortstop: Kenta Imamiya (Hawks) .267/.330/.370

Imamiya is the ultimate shortstop of Japan and his popularity won't die as his defense is legit. It is interesting how the defensive metrics currently favor Sosuke Genda, but the better SS right now is Eigoro Mogi of the Eagles. Mogi is hitting .319/.390/.558 with 12 HRs and usually bats leadoff for Rakuten.

===

Outfield: 

Yuki Yanagita (Hawks) .307/.423/.593

Seiji Uebayashi (Hawks) .300/.326/.495

Yanagita could get another Triple-3 season with 18 HRs ans 12 stolen bases. Uebayashi has come from the Hawks farm, but has been the everyday starting outfielder to earn a spot on the team. An argument can be made for Kensuke Kondo, but it appears he could be out for the entire season with a herniated disc injury.

===

Starting pitcher: Kodai Senga (Hawks) (6-2), 2.93 ERA, 0.960 WHIP,  (10.0 SO/9)

There's no question Senga deserves to be an All-star when he dominates on the field. Unfortunately, he's been injured recently, but it looks like he'll be healthy in time for the game itself. Yusei Kikuchi barely missed this spot, but with plenty of pitchers on the roster, someone had to be snubbed in votes.

===

Closer: Yuki Matsui (Eagles) (3-1), 0.28 ERA, 1.031 WHIP, 21 SV, (9.8 SO/9)

Matsui has been dominant when the ball is handed to him to close the games. This vote was a no brainer even though Dennis Sarfate has a case given his strikeout numbers.

===

Designated Hitter: Shohei Otani (Fighters) .407/.469/.807

Talk about bias. Otani has only appeared in eight games (seven when the voting ended) and fans voted him in anyways. He's been battling and injury and hasn't appeared on the mound in 2017 yet, but this wouldn't be worthy enough for our vote with a small sample size. Alfredo Despaigne should have the vote here with 18 HRs and he's even picked up his average to .281 since being with the Hawks.

===

Central League

Catcher: Ryutaro Umeno (Tigers) .195/.277/.268

The catcher position in the Central is one we don't have a lot of expertise on and won't pretend to know. At the time of the voting, many catchers weren't hitting, but it would have been tempting to take Yuhei Nakamura of the Swallows had he been healthy.

===

First Baseman: Takahiro Arai (Carp) .273/.387/.446

This is a name recognition vote given Arai's history. What's amazing is how Jose Lopez finished in dead last as he's hitting .321/.343/.571 with 15 HRs, leading his team in that category. Lopez's back is against the wall as he's in a contract year.

===

Second Baseman: Ryosuke Kikuchi (Carp) .277/.315/.395

This one is a no-doubter thanks to Tetsuto Yamada having an ugly season. Kikuchi doesn't have the highest batting average among 2Bs, but everyone knows his defense is important for the middle of the infield.

===

Third Baseman: Takashi Toritani (Tigers) .304/.401/.374

After being benched a year ago and no longer being the team's SS, Toritani has put in a respectable season at the plate. The high on-base percentage puts him over the top, though Casey McGehee has been a decent surprise for the Yomiuri Giants when we expected him to flop.

===

Shortstop: Hayato Sakamoto (Giants) .327/.398/.490

Sakamoto is popular nationwide when playing for Japan's national team. However, he backs up his reputation this year continue to be effective and the only Giant to truly carry his team on offense. Sakamoto has some of the best defense for a shortstop as well in NPB.

===

Outfielders: 

Seiya Suzuki (Carp) .305/.371/.554

Yoshio Itoi (Tigers) .275/.388/.399

Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (Baystars) .275/.394/.450

Suzuki is showing last year was no fluke as he already has 15 home runs and could easily hit 30 by the time 2017 is over. Itoi is not the greatest option, but is the most accomplished of the bunch based on the past. Yoshihiro Maru would've served as the better choice among OFs. Tsutsugo is remembered for his pop, but teams have pitched around him, which explains his high walk rate. He is still a threat as everyone saw from the 2017 World Baseball Classic.

===

Starting pitcher: Tomoyuki Sugano (Giants) (7-3), 2.38 ERA, 1.004 WHIP, (7.7 SO/9)

Sugano had three consecutive games which resulted in a shutout and remains the ace of the Giants. Raul Valdes and Randy Messenger both have an argument, but Sugano deserves to be at the top.

===

Middle Relief pitcher: Marcos Mateo (Tigers) (5-2), 1.80 ERA, 1.100 WHIP, (9.6 SO/9), 20 H

Mateo has been part of an amazing Hanshin Tigers bullpen. You can even make an argument that his fellow teammate Kentaro Kuwahara should get the nod, but if anything, the Tigers as a team have been solid when giving the ball to their relievers. Scott Mathieson of the Giants should also get recognition.

===

Closer: Yasuaki Yamasaki (Baystars) (1-1), 1.20 ERA, 0.933 WHIP, (11.3 SO.9), 8 SV

Yamasaki has been decent as a middle reliever. However, I don't agree with this vote since he doesn't close all the time as he has split with Spencer Patton through the first half. Rafael Dolis of the Hanshin Tigers has more saves and strikeouts to get the nod in my book.

===

At the end of the day, the All-star Series will always be the fan's game and nothing more. It's a fun party atmosphere of everyone enjoying Oendan songs no matter which league you prefer. The first All-star game will be on July 14 from Nagoya Dome while the second one will be at Zozotown Marine Field on July 15.

Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Sunday, June 25, 2017

2017 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Sayonara loss results in lost series down in Fukuoka


The Saitama Seibu Lions ended up losing two out of three games in Fukuoka against the Softbank Hawks over the weekend. They're currently 6.5 games ahead of the Orix Buffaloes in their quest for A-class. Here is how they got there.

===

Game 1 from Fukuoka had Yusei Kikuchi up against Nao Higashihama. Nobuhiro Masuda scored first from a timely hit in the bottom of the 1st inning. The Lions bats had their tone set with two double plays in the first two innings.

Kikuchi would get tattooed in the 2nd inning with the a bases loaded single by Kenta Imamiya. Yuki Yanagita would clear the bases with a home run into the porch to give an insurmountable lead. Kikuchi would only last two innings.

The rest of this game would have Higashihama on cruise control as he went the distance with six strikeouts and only seven hits allowed, earning a shutout. Softbank's bats would score of Katsunori Hirai and Frank Garces when the game was already decided as the Lions lost their third straight.

Hawks 10, Lions 0

Game note:

-Tadasuke Minamikawa was deactivated shortly after interleague play ended. Tatsuya Oishi returned to the ichi-gun and pitched a clean 9th inning.

===

Game 2 had Ken Togame facing rookie and former first round pick Yuki Matsumoto. Softbank once again drew first blood on an RBI single from Tomoki Takata in the bottom of the 2nd. Togame also had to pull a Houdini in the bottom of the third with the bases loaded by getting Seiji Uebayashi to strikeout.

The Lions responded with a two-run HR going to the back screen by Ernesto Mejia in the top of the 4th. Shuta Tonosaki followed up with an opposite field solo HR into the porch for a 3-1 lead.

Togame pitched two clean innings, but ran into trouble in the bottom of the 6th with runners on the corners. The damage was limited as Uebayashi grounded into a 6-4-3 double play, conceding a run to make it 3-2. Togame's day would end with six innings and five strikeouts with only two walks and six hits allowed.

Shota Takekuma took the 7th inning and the tying run was on 2nd after a bunt. However, Kenji Akashi would strikeout and Imamiya grounded out as the Lions kept the lead. The Lions had several chances to add insurance, but wouldn't come through for the day.

Brian Schlitter allowed Yanagita to get on as the leadoff hitter in the 8th, but Masatoshi Okada caught the runner stealing. He would strikeout Alfredo Despaigne and force a groundout to end the frame. Tatsushi Masuda took the 9th and allowed a leadoff walk to Akira Nakamura to create drama. After a bunt moved the runner over 90 feet, Masuda struck out Munenori Kawasaki and got Akashi to ground out and end the losing streak.

Lions 3, Hawks 2

Game notes:

-Hirotaka Koishi was added to the roster while Frank Garces was sent down.

-Togame would earn his 4th win of the season, matching his total from 2016.

===

For the rubber match, it would be a gaijin pitcher matchup with Rick Van Den Hurk up against Brian Wolfe. Softbank scored first in the bottom of the 1st inning with a timely single from Yuya Hasegawa. Sosuke Genda tied it up in the top of the third with a two-out timely single making it 1-1.

The Lions would erupt with three consecutive timely hits from the bottom of the lineup having Tonosaki, Ginjiro Sumitani and Yuji Kaneko all coming through for a 5-1 lead. The last two runs would come off a gapper from Shogo Akiyama at the top of the order.

It wouldn't be over as Hasegawa would hit a two-run HR off Wolfe to bring the Hawks within two. Wolfe would go six innings and allow only three runs with one walk and three strikeouts. Kazuhisa Makita ran into a jam and allowed an RBI single to Takata to make it a one run game. The Lions would get the run back on a timely hit from Tonosaki, but the Hawks responded with another run off Schlitter in the 8th.

Tatsushi Masuda took the 9th inning and would allow Yuki Yanagita to get on base. Shuhei Fukuda would pinch hit for Akira Nakamura with two outs and he took advantage of a breaking ball that sent the home crowd happy with a two-run sayonara HR. The Lions failed to win a series in Fukuoka once again.

Hawks 7, Lions 6

Game notes:

-Sumitani had a modasho with three singles.

===

This loss from Fukuoka is arguably the worst of the season. With one out away, it turns from a win into a loss and the one-run games continue to be a problem for the team. There are too many question marks on Masuda, but also the bats have been rather cold.

Sure, the team is still in A-class, but a loss like this in the past has demoralized the team. In 2015, it was Tomomi Takahashi's regression. Last year, it was the walkoff loss in Hiroshima where Masuda gave up a game-losing base hit to a pinch runner. How does this team respond? We'll find out.

===

Our podcast was recorded this past week and it will hopefully be up soon. Stay tuned! 

Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Transcript: Stephen Fife introduced by the Lions

Stephen Fife introduced with Senior Director Hisanobu "Nabe-Q" Watanabe 
Stephen Fife was introduced by the Saitama Seibu Lions on Tuesday, June 20. He played catch with the NPB sized baseball with the ni-gun team on Monday and is expected to be contributing to the team immediately, according to reports.

The Lions put up a condensed interview video of his press conference on both their Facebook and YouTube pages. Here is a transcript of what he said:

Introduction:

"My name is Stephen Fife, I'm 30 years old from Arizona in the USA. I'm very happy to be here and contribute to this club and their efforts to win the Nippon Series."

On what kind of pitcher he is: 

"I pitch to contact for the most part. I throw a four-seam fastball that has a little cut. I throw a two-seam (fastball) that runs the other way, a curve ball, slider and changeup and try to get as many ground balls as possible."

On being in Japan:

"There's a lot of excitement. A lot of fans, positivity in terms of the atmosphere with the fans. Other than that, I have't really seen a whole lot other than watching like Matt Murton's highlights and Josh Fields' highlights and their experience here so I think it's going to be fun. A lot to learn, but it should be exciting.

Note: Fife was teammates with former Hanshin Tiger Matt Murton in 2016 with the Chicago Cubs AAA affiliate, the Iowa Cubs. He was teammates with former Yomiuri Giant Josh Fields in 2012 with the Los Angeles Dodgers then-AAA affiliate, the Albuquerque Isotopes. 

On confidence and goals:

"I pitched pretty well in 2013 with the Dodgers and I was pretty consistent all year long. I hope to feel similar to that this year."

On the beard:

"*laughing* I try to groom it as much as possible and keep it in order, The wife doesn't like it when it gets too big."

On why signing with NPB:

"The opportunity was just better here. With the [Miami] Marlins I had a chance to continue to pitch in AAA and maybe get a chance to pitch in the big leagues, but for the opportunity to come here and pitch with the [ichi-gun] and experience a new culture and new style of game is more intriguing for me and I'm excited for it."

On what to look forward to with the Lions:

"I'm just looking forward to getting started, getting going here. Start in the [ni-gun] with the guys here over the next 5-10 days and hopefully get a chance to pitch with the [ichi-gun] and when I do, stay and win some games and enjoy the regular season, the playoffs and the Nippon Series."

===

Follow us on Twitter @GravyardBall

Sunday, June 18, 2017

2017 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Tsuji loses series in return to Nagoya


===

The Sataima Seibu Lions went 2-4 against the Hanshin Tigers and Chunichi Dragons to end interleague play with a road trip in the central part of the country. It was their first losing week since May 7. Despite all of this, they would keep a solid eight game cushion on the Orix Buffaloes and 9.5 on the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters in the race for A-class. Here is how they got there:

===

The opener from Koshien Stadium had Ryoma Nogami against Takumi Akiyama. "Shunsuke" Fujikawa opened the scoring from a two-run gapper off Nogami in the bottom of the 2nd. The Lions responded with solo HRs from Sosuke Genda and Ernesto Mejia in the 3rd and 4th innings, but the Tigers got the lead back with a solo HR from Shunsuke in the bottom of the 4th.

There was a chance on with a runner on third for the Lions against Akiyama, but there would be no damage with three consecutive outs from the top of the order. Nogami would only allow those three runs and go six innings, but couldn't earn a win. The best chance came in the 7th inning with the bases loaded as the Tigers used two relievers in the frame, but Kentaro Kuwahara would escape by getting Hideto Asamura to flyout.
Hanshin would pull away in bottom of the 7th with a two-run gapper by Kento Itohara off Shota Takekuma and added two more runs with a hit by Masahiro Nakatani in the 8th off Frank Garces to put the game away.

While the Lions had their chances, it would be T. Akiyama who would have his day with 6.1 innings and five strikeouts.

Tigers 7, Lions 2

Game notes:

-Takeya "Okawari-kun" returned to the lineup for hte first time since June 7. He would go 0-4.

-With the interleague makeup break coming up, the Lions took Nogami off the roster after the game, calling up P Shoga Noda in his place.

===

Game 2 had Yosuke Okamoto up against Atsushi Nomi.  The Lions scored first in the top of the 1st after two 2-out walks to Shogo Akiyama and Asamura. Okawari-kun made Nomi pay with a base hit to draw first blood.

In the top of the third, Akyama and Asamura reached base again with two-out singles. Okawari-kun did damage once again, this time with a three-run opposite field blast for his 14th HR of the year to make it 4-0.

An early chance came for the Tigers in the bottom of the 4th with two runners on, but Kosuke Fukudome grounded into a 3-6-3 double play. Okamoto ran into another jam for the 5th inning with second and third with nobody out, but both runners would score on an RBI groundout and sacrifice fly to clear the bases. The inning was still going as two more runners would reach base, but Yamato Maeda grounded out to end the threat.

Okamoto had to ask his defense to do the job, with only two strikeouts on the night. He left the game after getting one out in the 6th and Takekuma took over with inherited runners. Takashi Toritani would hit an infield fly while this time around, Shunsuke would groundout.

Kazuhisa Makita pitched a clean 7th, while Brian Schlitter gave up one hit in the 8th, but no runs allowed. Tatsushi Masuda, a Hyogo prefecture native, came in for the 9th and initially allowed a leadoff hit to Toritani, Shunsuke hit a loud flyout to RF caught by Fumikazu Kimura, Hiroki Uemoto would strikeout, pinch hitting for the catcher while Yoshio Itoi, an old Pacific League foe, came in to pinch hit the pitcher's spot. Itoi would be caught looking and Masuda earned the save as the Lions evened up the series.

Lions 4, Tigers 2

Game note:

-With Okawari-kun's HR, he officially hit a home run in all 12 main NPB stadiums for his career.

-Like Nogami, Okamoto was taken off the roster after the game. The Lions would call up Aito Takeda (formerly Otaki) to the ichi-gun.

===

The rubber match would have Randy Messenger facing Ken Togame. Hanshin struck first in the bottom of the 1st inning thanks to a timely single from Fukudome. Seibu responded with a two-run HR by Ernesto Mejia in the top of the 4th, but the game would be tied in the bottom of the 6th with an unlikely RBI single by pinch-hitter Hayata Ito.

Messenger's control wasn't the greatest on the night, but Togame would also Houdini his way through six innings. It would be a battle of bullpens starting in the 7th inning and both sides looked even until the 9th inning. Kazuhisa Makita pitched the 7th and 8th with no problem, but the Tigers pen shut the Lions bats down with plenty of strikeouts from Marcos Mateo and Rafael Dolis.

Brian Schlitter took the 9th inning and escaped with a runner on second, but the breaks wouldn't come in the 10th. Ginjiro Sumitani walked to leadoff the top of the frame, but the Lions couldn't get him home as Shogo Akiyama struck out as the runner was in scoring position. The Tigers loaded the bases in the bottom of the 10th and Fumihito Haraguchi would get a sayonara hit, giving the Tigers the series.

Tigers 3, Lions 2 (10 innings)

Game notes:

-The Lions couldn't figure out Nakatani in this one, as he went 5-5 having all singles.

-Shuta Tonosaki started in LF in place of Takumi Kuriyama and went 0-4.

===

The week shifted West to Nagoya Dome as the Lions faced 2015 Koshien champions Shinnosuke Ogasawara with Yusei Kikuchi. Chunichi scored first with a solo HR by Naomichi Donoue in the bottom of the third.

The lead wouldn't last long as Okawari-kun would hit a deep sacrifice fly to score one run and Ernesto Mejia followed it up with a solo HR in the top of the 5th. Akiyama added on with a two-run opposite field HR in the top of the 5th. Mejia would golf a solo HR in the top of the 6th for a multiple home run game.

Kikuchi didn't need to be dominant, but he still went eight innings with the one HR given up and had 10 strikeouts with one walk. Akiyama put the icing on the cake with a three-run blast in the top of the 9th to make it 9-1. Katsunori Hirai pitched a scoreless 9th inning to put the Lions back in the win column.

Lions 9, Dragons 1

Game notes:

-Akiyama and Ginjiro Sumitani had modashos.

-Dayan Viciedo missed the entire series for the weekend as he went to the USA to file paperwork for U.S. Citizenship.

-Takeda would make his first career plate appearance as a pinch hitter in the top of the 9th. He would be hit by a pitch from Taisuke Maruyama and scored on Akiyama's HR.

-The Lions can say they've beaten every team in NPB with this win, something that couldn't happen last year after being swept in Hiroshima by the Carp.

===

Game 2 from Nagoya Dome had Yasuo Sano up against veteran Raul Valdes. Sano would leave the game in the bottom of the first after feeling pain in his left knee and Frank Garces had to step in as an emergency starter. The Dragons scored first in the bottom of the second on a sacrifice fly by Takuya Kinoshita. Garces looked like he would limit the damage by striking out Raul Valdes, but it was a wild pitch which would score a second runner.

Chunichi picked up another run in the bottom of the 4th as Kinoshita picked up a base hit through the ball striking first base for a strange bounce past the infield. The Lions best chance came in the top of the 5th with two runners in scoring position. Sumitani looked like he would have a gapper, but Yohei Oshima ran it down and it resulted in a sacrifice fly. Valdes would dominate the Lions with seven strong innings and only two hits allowed with two walks.

Shingo Takeyama would hit a bloop RBI single off Tadasuke Minamikawa in the bottom of the 8th for insurance, but the Lions bats would remain cold on the day and not create any threat. Shinji Tajima closed the game out with no problem and evened up the series.

Dragons 4, Lions 1

Game notes:

-Hirai, Minamikawa and Shogo Noda would all play in this game as low leverage relievers.

-Sano would be deactivated after the game as his condition is unknown.

===

The final game of interleague play would have Brian Wolfe against first round rookie Yuya Yanagi. Seibu scored first with an RBI double by Asamura in the top of the 1st inning. Chunichi took the lead in the bottom of the frame with an error by Sosuke Genda and Masahiko Morino hitting the wall for a double making it 2-1.

It would be 3-1 in the bottom of the third thanks to an RBI double from Atsushi Fujii. The Lions would fight back and tie the game in the top of the 6th as Okawari-kun hit an RBI double and scored on a wild pitch from Yanagi.

Yanagi would go seven innings with a walk and three strikeouts depending on weak contact as his best weapon. Wolfe would go only five innings, but keep the Lions in the hunt.

Shota Takekuma pitched a scoreless 6th while Kazuhisa Makita took the 7th giving up a leadoff hit to pinch hitter Takahito Kudo. The Dragons would bunt him over and it would be Kyohei Kamezawa who delievered with a timely hit to give Chunichi the lead for good. Offense for the Lions was minimal against the Dragons' bullpen and they would lose the series.

Dragons 4, Lions 3

===

With interleague play finally over, the Lions for the most part were successful going 10-7-1, unlike the disaster last season of finishing 1-5 and a 9-9 record overall. They were able to gain ground on the Fighters and Buffaloes without having a brutal stretch. Things can always be better though, with the hitting having its ups and downs and the rotation depth in question.

They'll be in Fukuoka for the weekend after what will be a fun test. Can Masuda shake off the recent woes? Will Kaneko's addition make a difference as Pacific League play resumes? How does the pitching depth hold up and what can Stephen Fife do? We'll find out. In the meantime, enjoy the break as the Lions regroup and continue their quest for A-class.

===

Stay tuned for a June podcast episode coming soon by the end of the month!

Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Report: Seibu Lions reach agreement with Stephen Fife

Fife pitching with the Miami Marlins AAA affiliate, the New Orleans Baby Cakes
With the end of interleague play in NPB about to come, The Saitama Seibu Lions made an unexpected move. The Lions announced on Saturday that they reached an agreement with P Stephen Fife. With this addition, Fife is the 6th foreign player and 6th foreign pitcher on the Lions' roster. Fife will be unveiled in a press conference on June 20.

Fife, 30, most recently signed the the Miami Marlins organization last winter. Frank Garces was also with the Marlins organization briefly before signing with the Lions. With the Marlins' AAA affiliate, the New Orleans Baby Cakes (Yes, that's their name),  Fife had a 3.97 ERA in 12 starts with a 4-3 record to go with 52 strikeouts.

"I am very excited to be a member of Saitama Seibu Lions, who aim to win the Japanese series," Fife said in a statement. "I am honored to have the opportunity to play in NPB. I am looking forward to learning [about] Japanese baseball, Japanese culture and making new discoveries."

Fife was also with the Chicago Cubs organization in 2016, but is most remembered for his time with the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he played ichi-gun baseball from 2012-2014. Fife was a spot starter and later back-end starter for the Dodgers in 2013, where he posted his best ichi-gun year going 4-4 with a 3.86 ERA in 12 games. Fife would also undergo Tommy John surgery in 2014 to miss the entire 2015 season.

The Lions' 70-man roster is now full as Shogo Kimura was promoted from ikusei and Fife being signed in the same month. With the foreigner roster rule in effect, Fife will be part of a mix with three other pitchers on the outside.

Ernesto Mejia is already locked with his spot while Brian Wolfe and Brian Schlitter are both worthy to keep at the ichi-gun level. Garces is likely to be the odd man out as the Lions will probably start Fife when he is ready. Other foreign pitchers still on the roster include Chun-Lin Kuo and Alexis Candelario.

The back end of the rotation has been a large question mark by both the media and ourselves here at Graveyard Baseball. While Yusei Kikuchi, Wolfe and Ryoma Nogami have held their ground, there's plenty of uncertainty with Yosuke Okamoto and Ken Togame being there. Most recently, Yasuo Sano left Saturday's game with an injury and it's unsure if there is a timetable on him. By throwing a spot starter each week, it's a sign that the young draft picks still aren't ready.

Shinsaburo Tawata is working through a shoulder injury while Kona Takahashi has also been in ni-gun. It's possible that the Lions management wants a stop gap with Fife being added to the roster.

Fife's biggest strength is being a ground ball pitcher, which is something the Lions likely covet as they listened to their foreign scouts. His 7.13 K/9 ratio might not seem intimidating on paper, but let's also not forget that Brian Wolfe also has few strikeouts and remains productive for the team.

With Sosuke Genda at SS and Hideto Asamura at 2B, the Lions expect Fife to keep the ball in play and have the infield take care of the pitcher. We've seen how the team does with Wolfe on the mound and the Lions are hoping for the similar results.

For any Lions fans who use Twitter, Fife can be followed here

===

Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Sunday, June 11, 2017

2017 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Sweeping of the Giants sets opposing franchise record


===

The Saitama Seibu Lions had another successful week, going 5-1 against the Yomiuri Giants and Yokohama DeNA Baystars for a six-game homestand in MetLife Dome. June 11 was the last game for Lions fans to see their team in Tokorozawa until June 30th, as they go on a road trip, followed by the makeup week for interleague games and ending with more road games, with a home series in Okinawa.

As of June 11, the Lions have a 6.5 game lead on the Orix Buffaloes as they hope to remain in A-class. Quietly, the Lions are only three games behind the Softbank Hawks and 4.5 behind the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. Here's how they got there:

===

In the opener against the Kyojin, Ryoma Nogami was on the bump against ace Tomoyuki Sugano. The Giants struck first with a two-RBI base hit from Daikan Yoh in the top of the 3rd, who was making his debut as a Yomiuri Giants player. Shinnosuke Abe would drop an RBI single in the top of the 4th to make it 3-0.

The Lions responded in the bottom of the frame with a two out rally. Ernesto Mejia and Shuta Tonosaki would get timely RBI singles to bring the team within one run. Yomiuri looked like they were going to break it open with the bases loaded and no outs in the top of the 6th, but Nogami struck out Shingo Ishikawa and Luis Cruz would hit a sac fly to reduce the damage. Seiji Kobayashi added an RBI single to make it a 5-2 lead and Nogami's day was done. Nogami had seven strikeouts going 5.2 innings with only one walk, but the third time through the order penalty struck him late.

This lead wouldn't last for long as it would be the third time through the order for Sugano in the bottom of the 6th. Takumi Kuriyama hit a solo HR while Mejia doubled to begin the inning. Ginjiro Sumitani would get a two-out hit and it was followed up by an RBI groundout by Yuji Kaneko to tie the game at 5-5.

Kazuhisa Makita would have a jam with runners on first and second and it looked like the bases would be loaded as Abe got an infield single, but Itaru Hashimoto was tagged out at the plate trying to score from second.

Momentum would stay on the Lions side in the bottom of the 7th. With Toshiki Sakurai pitching, he would load the bases with three walks. Kentaro Nishimura would come in and walk Mejia to give the team a lead. Tonosaki would add a sacrifice fly to make it 7-5. After Schlitter had minimal issues in the 8th, Hideto Asamura sent one to the stands to give the Lions a 3-run lead, which would be insurmountable.

As a result of this Lions win, the Giants would tie a franchise record 11-straight losses.

Lions 8, Giants 5

Game notes:

-Ernesto Mejia had a modasho and reached base in all plate appearances with the walk. His son Alonso would make an appearance during the hero interview.

-The top of the order would go 0-12, but a key walk to Shogo Akiyama would help a rally.

===

Game 2 against the Giants would have Yosuke Okamoto making his first start for the ichi-gun since the final game of 2015 against an old foe, Mitsuo Yoshikawa, who was traded to the Kyojin from the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters.

Okamoto escaped an early jam in the top of the 4th with two runners on, but some good defense by Asamura kept the Giants off the board with two ground balls. Mejia would keep momentum on the Lions side with a two-run HR with two outs in the bottom of the frame. It would be his 8th HR of the year.

The top of the 5th had a clean shutdown inning for Okamoto, but he ran into trouble in the 6th. With Yoh on third, he got Hayato Sakamoto to groundout and no runner advancing, but walked Casey McGehee to end his night. Manager Hatsuhiko Tsuji would bring in Shota Takekuma to face Shinnosuke Abe with two outs and runners on the corners and it worked to perfection. On the first pitch, Abe would flyout to LF.

Nishimura would pitch in the bottom of the 6th for the Kyojin and it would be Okawari-kun to do some damage. He hit a solo HR to left-center field on what looked like a line drive, giving the Lions a 3-0 lead. Takekuma would have Yoshiyuki Kamei flyout with a lefty vs lefty matchup, then Makita gave up two hits to Ishikawa and Cruz. However, Makita forced a ground ball on Hisayoshi Chono and the Lions picked up a double play to keep the Kyojin with a goose egg through seven.

Schlitter gave up a hit in the 8th, but allowed nothing else. Masuda would have a clean 9th inning to secure the series and a second straight Lions win.

Lions 3, Giants 0

Game notes:

-With this loss, the Giants secured a franchise record 12 consecutive losses, beating their previous record of 11 from 1975. It was also the longest recent losing streak in NPB since the Lions lost 13 in 2015.

-Okawari-kun once again became the team leader in HRs with 13.

-To make room for Okamoto on the ichi-gun, Ichiro Tamura would be deactivated as the corresponding move.

-Kuriyama would sit out for this one as Naoto Watanabe filled in at DH. Watanabe had a double with a sacrifice hit.

-This was Okamoto's first win since 2015, where he barely hung on against Rakuten in allowing multiple HRs last time around.

===

Game 3 between the Lions and the old enemy would feature Ken Togame making the start for the Lions and industrial league rookie, Shun Ikeda for the Giants.

The Lions would strike first early in the bottom of the 1st, thanks to three consecutive singles from Akiyama, Asamura and Kuriyama to give the Lions an early 1-0 lead.

In the third, the Lions would declare this game a blowout with a six-run inning capped off by some poor command from Ikeda, bad defense, and even a fortunate infield hit for the Lions. With that said, the bases were loaded and an likely source provided the big hit to break it open. Shuta Tonosaki hit a grand slam to make it 7-0 Lions which was his 4th on the year. Ikeda would be lifted from the game after giving up the grand slam.

The Lions would continue the theme of unlikely sources of power in the fourth with Sosuke Genda hitting his first career NPB home run into the Giants Ōendan for a two-run home run that extended the lead to 9-0. In the fifth, the theme would continue, with the Lions igniting a two-out rally behind singles from Masatoshi Okada and Shogo Kimura that would set up another unlikely power source in the form of Yuji Kaneko who hit a three-run home run that curled inside the right field foul pole and just like that the Lions were up 12-0 in the fifth after Kaneko's first home run of the season.

The Giants would pull two runs back off Togame in the top of the sixth thanks to the middle of the order bats of Hayato Sakamoto, Casey McGehee, and Shinnosuke Abe. Up to that point, Togame had been in cruise control against the Giants the first two times through the order. He'd finish with six innings of two runs given up with seven scattered hits and two strikeouts.

The Lions would get one of those runs right back and complete the scoring in the sixth, after singles from Akiyama and Asamura would set up a sacrifice fly from Ernesto Mejia thus making a 13-2 Lions lead.

Frank Garces would toss two innings of relief for the Lions with Tadasuke Minamikawa finishing the game and completing the Lions sweep of Kyojin.

Lions 13, Giants 2

Game notes:

-The victory for the Lions gives them a seven game unbeaten streak dating back to last Wednesday's victory over the Carp.

-The loss for the Giants extends their losing streak to 13 games and the 2015 Lions know all about losing 13 in a row. The Giants fell to 3.5 games back of the Baystars for A-Class and was in 5th place after this game.

-Shogo Kimura was added to the 70-man roster as well was being promoted to the ichi-gun as he started at third base with Okawari-kun's back injury that is apparently day to day. Shotaro Tashiro was taken off the roster to make room for Kimura.

===

The homestand would bring in the most southern team in Kanto with the Baystars bringing Shoichi Ino against Yusei Kikuchi. Yokohama struck first on a two-run HR by Hiroyasu Tanaka in the top of the second.

Ino looked like he was in control through six innings as he didn't allow a run. Things would change in the bottom of the 7th where Kaneko would hit one over Takayuki Kajitani's head and tied the game as pinch-hitter Daichi Miguguchi scored. Relief pitcher Yoshiki Sunada would be called for a balk when trying to pick off Kaneko, moving the runner to third base. Genda would plate Kaneko on an RBI groundout to give the Lions a lead.

Kikuchi settled in, going eight innings with eight strikeouts and a combined six hits. With the top of the 9th, Tatsushi Masuda would walk Yoshitomo Tsutsugo and face Toshiro Miyazaki. Miyazaki would pull one into the Lions Oendan and give the Baystars the lead again. Yasuaki Yamasaki would close the game with no drama and the Lions three-game win streak ended in ugly fashion.

Baystars 4, Lions 3

Game notes:

-Shogo Kimura started at 3B again in place of an injured Okawari-kun.

===

Game 2 would have Yasuo Sano up against Kentaro Taira, the pitcher the Baystars acquired as compensation for the loss of Shun Yamaguchi. Shogo Akiyama opened the scoring with a two-run HR in the bottom of the 1st. The Lions benefited from an error by Tanaka on what should have been a double play. The ball would go to left field and a run would score to make it 3-0. Kaneko would hit a sacrifice fly and Akiyama slapped a timely single to bring two more runs and end Taira's day after two innings.

Sano would cruise through two innings, but allowed timely hits to Tanaka and Jose Lopez which made it 5-2. He would run into a jam for the top of the 4th and reached the 80-pitch count. Hatsuhiko Tsuji would take Sano out and have Frank Garces enter getting Kajitani to flyout and end the frame.

Garces ran into another two out jam in the top of the 5th with two runners in scoring position, However, he would get Audy Ciraco to strikeout to end the threat. Garces had a much cleaner 6th inning and was in line for a victory after not allowing a run.

Makita and Schlitter both gave up a hit in the 7th and 8th, but no damage was done with the latter getting a double play. Tonosaki would hit a solo HR in the bottom of the 8th and Shota Takekuma closed it out with a four run lead to even up the series.

Lions 6, Baystars 2

Game notes:

-Naoto Watanabe would play at 3B and bat 8th in the lineup. He would pickup two walks.

-The Lions Oendan paid tribute to legendary Nishitetsu Lion P Kazuhisa Inao, as 6/10 would be his 80th birthday.

===

The rubber match for Sunday had Brian Wolfe taking the mound against Shota Imanaga, who came off a solid 2016 rookie season. Both sides wouldn't have much chance as this game lived up to the hype as being a pitcher's duel.

Yuji Kaneko would leadoff the 4th inning with a double. Genda would bunt Kaneko over to third with Shogo Akiyama up having less than two outs. He would hit a chopper to 2B Elian Herrera, but the fielder attacked home plate and Kaneko beat out the throw to score. The play would go to review, but there was no dispute that Kaneko's hand touched home plate before any tag by Yasutaka Tobashira.

Imanaga would have a dominant outing, going eight innings with six strikeouts scattering five hits and two walks. The best chance for the Lions came with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the 8th, but Imanaga struck out Akiyama as the latter was caught looking to end the threat.

Wolfe would dominate with the ground ball, allowing only two hits through seven innings and his pitch count was well-below 100. Tsuji would have Schlitter take the 8th where he allowed several base runners, but a double play prevented any damage.

Tsuji would stick to the plan in the 9th as Masuda would take over. He had two quick outs on Kajitani and Jose Lopez, but Tsutsugo forced a walk and like Friday's game, Miyazaki was up again. Tsuji ran out to the mound to discuss a plan for Masuda and it worked. Miyazaki would foul out and the Lions took the series.

Lions 1, Baystars 0

Game notes:

-Watanabe started at 3B and went 2 for 3.

-This would be the 5th consecutive winning week for the Lions dating back to their sweeping of Orix on May 14.

===

The Lions successfully went 5-1, but it's easy to feel greedy with how Masuda blew a save in the 9th. Based on the last month of play, an argument can be made that Masuda is the worst closing option among the Pacific League closers. He was able to fight off the last game which is a good sign, but he still isn't striking anyone out.

An 8-3-1 interleague record is always good, but it's crazy to think they should be 10-2 if it weren't for Masuda blowing two 9th inning leads. The bats have been up and down depending on the opposing pitcher, which is understandable. Last year, the Lions were 8-4 through 12 interleague games. Hopefully there won't be any major letdown, but we're expected a winning record at minimum. It will be interesting to see what happens with Okawari-kun's injury and how the 3B position is utilized. It's likely with no DH, Okawari-kun is just a pinch hitter.

===

Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall